(Posted on my APP blog page)
So I was talking with someone the other day about a problem he was having with a neighbor. She’s feeding cats outdoors, which in itself is not a bad intention, but she’s creating a big problem for him. More and more keep showing up, and when they’re done eating at her house, they visit his to relieve themselves. He has to clean up the yard every time his kids want to go out and play. Worse, she is apparently going to shelters and rescues, adopting cats, and then “setting them free” – thereby adding to the feral population. He is furious at her lack of regard for the problems she is creating for the neighborhood, and the problem she is creating for the ever-increasing cat population. When he complains to her, she suggests things he could do (all of them involve work and expense on his part) without offering to make any changes of her own.
I said to him that he needs to change his tack and approach her with an appeal based on her viewpoint – the way her behavior is bad for the cats she thinks she’s helping. As long as she believes she’s got a noble cause, nothing’s going to change. So I’m going to share with you what can happen if you simply put out food for the cats outdoors.
Let me start with disease. . .
Many deadly illnesses in cats are spread by close contact, when cats mate, fight, or even share a food bowl. Healthy cats and sick cats who might otherwise not interact will come together at a ready source of food. The healthy cat who then catches a disease can bring it back to its colony, pass it on to its kittens, or bring it home to the other pets it lives with (another reason to keep your pets indoors!) You have not improved the quality of life for the cats you feed if you infect them with Feline Leukemia, FIV, upper respiratory infections, or infectious peritonitis. If the cats are picked up and put into a shelter, you may also be responsible for the euthanization of a number of healthy cats who would otherwise be adopted, because some shelters cannot take chances with infectious diseases. They will pre-emptively destroy groups of cats that share even cages in the same room to avoid the expense of feeding and medicating cats that may not live in the end.
Even if the group you feed doesn’t, somehow, include any cats with these illnesses, it’s equally possible that they might have ringworm, tapeworm, or roundworm. These parasites are spread by fleas, feces, saliva, casual contact, and don’t go away without treatment. They cause the cats quite a bit of misery, and can kill them over a long time. These critters, since they are not diseases, can also be passed to other animals,and even humans. Treatments have to be repeated, and re-infestation is likely unless the entire population is cleared – not something that happens with a group of feral cats who gather over a pile of food.
The bottom line is that if you indiscriminately feed cats, don’t trap/neuter/release, or add cats to the outdoor population, you’re doing more harm than good. If you selectively feed so you can gain the trust of a cat, you can catch it and get it tested for illness or parasites so it doesn’t pass on what it might have. You can spay or neuter so that it won’t catch disease when mating or fighting over mates or territory (or lessen the likelihood) or pass it on to its offspring. Sometimes, sadly, you will have to euthanize, but that is better than a lingering, guaranteed death, and certainly better than allowing the cat to infect other, healthy animals.
If you’re aware of someone who does this, pass this information along, please. If you know people who own cats and let them roam, pass it to them, too. And if you know someone who is repeatedly adopting shelter or rescue animals and letting them out, pass the word on to the local shelter so they can place the person on a “do not adopt” list. Saving animals is a lot more complicated than pouring food into a tray outdoors.